Leave a Comment · Posted on June 11, 2017
Satdee Poetry is a monthly poetry group for young people 16 to 25 yrs from across Sheffield, Rotherham, Doncaster & Barnsley (who do not attend a Hive group in South Yorkshire)
All interests & abilities welcome.
FREE | Next session: Saturday 8th July (this session is earlier than usual at 2.30 to 5pm due to a visiting poet)
Where: Sheffield Hallam Uni (5 minutes from Sheffield train station, Howard Street, central building)
Write poems, read poems, enjoy poems, get ideas and be inspired by others who buzz off the same thing if a really lovely, relaxed atmosphere. All abilities and levels welcome. This is a once a month Saturday workshop to keep you in your creative groove!
Interested? Email Kate@hivesouthyorkshire.com to put your name down, and get directions to where it’s at!
Sessions are FREE to encourage young people to travel from across South Yorkshire to attend. If travel costs are an issue, let us know.
I really looking forward to these sessions!” Vertaa Lune
Leave a Comment · Posted on May 23, 2017
Hive Young Writers’ afternoon with poet James Giddings
Finding poetry in unexpected places – Talk, reading & workshop
James Giddings is a 26 year old poet based in Sheffield. His debut pamphlet ‘Everything is Scripted’ won Templar Poetry’s Book and Pamphlet Award in 2016. James will talk about his writing journey so far, read some of his work and run a workshop exploring finding inspiration in found text and editing something into a finished piece.
James was born in 1990 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He completed his MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam University where he was awarded an Arts and Humanities Research Council grant. James is a graduate of The Writing Squad and his poems have been widely published both online and in print.
2.30 to 5pm Saturday 8th July
Sheffield Hallam University – near Sheffield train station
FREE (donations of £1/£2 welcome) & open to young writer from across South Yorkshire 14 to 25
Refreshments provided | break half way
To reserve a place, email: email@example.com
Leave a Comment · Posted on May 22, 2017
For the first week of the Easter holiday, I was lucky enough to go off on a Hive adventure with a big band of South Yorkshire young writers, not quite knowing what to expect, to the wonderful Arvon Lumb Bank centre near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. I can still feel myself stepping off the minibus back in Sheffield feeling notably changed after a week I will never forget.
The warm and welcoming environment is such a key part of the magic of Lumb Bank, and the hospitable staff made us feel at home immediately. Turning up somewhere with 15 other young people, many of whom you don’t know, is daunting, especially for an introvert like me. But I cannot express how close we all became by the end of the week. We started mingling from the moment we were greeted with pots of tea and cake.
When we’d settled into our rooms after the evening meal, our tutors for the week, novelist Tiffany Murray and poet Peter Sansom, told us how it would unfold. Arvon weeks for adults, I’m told, follow a similar structure – workshops in the mornings, a buffet lunch, then free time from 1 to 7pm unless you’ve got a tutorial booked with a writer or you’re on dinner duty (which you do just once with others from the group, ingredients and recipes all ready to go). After dinner, there is a happening every night for an hour or so. Tuesday, the tutors read their work, Wednesday there’s a visiting writer who reads, Thursdays are a free night (cue guitar singalongs and sporadic group yoga!) and Fridays tend to be when groups share their work in a final showcase.
On sharing some highlights from the week, honestly, I’m lost for words (oh the irony). I truly loved every moment – the writing, the workshops, cooking and eating together, the surroundings, the tutorials, the evening events. But what stays with me most is the people. We were all given ample time to write outside of workshops be it in a private corner of the house, a romantic bedroom window seat overlooking a magnificent valley, or a secluded spot in the garden watching the birds, but the feedback and conversations I had were invaluable. My writing improved hugely, but, no doubt, connecting with other people that are just as excited about words as I am, in such a wonderful environment, made all the difference to this and us as aspiring writers.
Personally, I have grown significantly as a writer and as a person; grown in creativity and maturity, grown in confidence, maybe even grown in height, though I doubt it. I’m not one for standing in front of a room full of people, and reading my own, often personal, work out makes me feel vulnerable, but there I was, on many evenings, not only the final showcase night, defying my own expectations. I think I speak for all my young writer companions when I say that you do not leave Lumb Bank the same person as when you arrived. And those valuable changes and light bulb moments that you take away, stay with you forever.
Our tutors, Tiffany and Peter, were a brilliant support throughout, with insightful tutorials, and inspiring workshops which had a very welcoming and open feel; it felt like whatever came out was something good and worth working on or coming back to. Whatever I wrote, it was something to be proud of and treasured, and that environment and attitude is something that I try to remember now whenever I write. Even when I was at my least confident, I felt comfortable in the knowledge that what I was doing was an ‘ink waster’, a term I have lovingly adopted for my own work (when you feel like you’re not really getting there, but it’s still worthwhile). Every writer’s been there!
My one to ones with Peter and Tiffany, simply talking about what I’d written, where I wanted to go with it, what could be next, were enriching. Their advice was very useful and encouraging, particularly for a new writer such as myself who is only just taking their baby steps into the literary world.
Other highlights for me included visiting Sylvia Plath’s grave up the hill in Heptonstall. This was a moving experience and really brought into perspective the significance of where we were staying and who else had been here before us. It felt as though a little of all the previous tutors and writers before us, displayed in beautiful photos up and down the house, were imbued in the essence of that wonderful place, and a little bit in us too, not to mention the influence of Plath and Hughes themselves.
The Wednesday evening reading from guest reader Hannah Lowe was also a pleasure, especially hearing such an amazing poet talk openly about their own work in such an intimate setting. I particularly liked hearing her very personal stories of her father, this mysterious and complex person, and how they brought another layer of meaning to the poems she shared. It is certainly a testament to her work and her wonderful words that we all came away from the evening wanting a copy of everything she had written!
All in all, this was a truly life-changing week for me. I wrote words I never thought I could and made friends I didn’t think I would. I implore any young person who has the opportunity to go on an Arvon residential to take it. You will never regret it, and never forget it. If I could put into words what it would be like for you, how it would change you, I would. But not even the writer in me knows how! What you will discover will be so unique and so special to you that I could never express it. Arvon has shown me that there is so much more I can do with my writing and my voice, and that there is an even wider community of writers out there. When I heard people talk about how Arvon will ‘change your life forever’, I never quite believed it. Needless to say, saying this about Arvon is no ink-waster.
With thanks to Hive South Yorkshire and Arvon for subsidising this opportunity.
Leave a Comment · Posted on May 16, 2017
There are 3 opportunities to catch young writers reading and performing, (or to perform as a young writer yourself) during May and June, plus some great talents you can catch alongside them. We thought we’d round them up as we’re good like that!
South Yorkshire Poetry Festival is taking place throughout May. For more info click here.
Leave a Comment · Posted on May 13, 2017
Doncaster is currently hosting the first ever poetry exhibition in a commercial shopping space in the UK, possibly even the world (Google has yet to provide a final answer on this one so let’s go with it…WORLD!)
In February this year I was contacted by the Frenchgate Centre about a ‘dead space’ in the shopping centre. Rather than fill it with adverts, marketing manager Karen Staniforth wanted to create a space for local creatives. I put forward the vague idea of a poetry project and it quickly became apparent that it should be a space to celebrate and highlight the diversity of poets we have here in Doncaster.
As curator of These poets, our kin / These poems, our stories, I had to be mindful to showcase work which not only made best use of the space, but also connected with the thousands of Donny folk and commuters passing through the centre each and every day.
In 2013 a poem called ‘Doncaster’s Dignity’ by Paul Luke was installed in the foyer of Doncaster train station. The poem charts our town’s history, famous buildings and people. With this exhibition, I wanted the poems to work on an even more personal level. I wanted them to showcase what Donny poets are interested in, and what they are experiencing and writing about today. Which is why you will find a real range of poems, including a villanelle about Ed Balls on Strictly Come Dancing, a barista writing your name wrong on your coffee cup, being interrupted by a stranger at a bus stop, and a walk along a towpath in winter.
The poets selected show not only a difference in forms and concerns, but a range of ages, backgrounds, jobs and connections to the town. The youngest poet featured was 21 and the oldest 70. While the majority were born in Doncaster, some originate from Aberdeen, Detroit, and even Sri Lanka. These are poets who have jobs as diverse as nurses, social workers, primary teachers, events managers and computer operators. This information is included in the bios underneath every poem because I wanted to further deepen a connection with passers-by.
It was particularly exciting to feature the work of a range of young, emerging Doncaster poets, most of whom were new names to me. Iram Ahmed, Michele Beck, Josephine Bowerman, Ryan Madin, and Alfred Thananchayan are ones to watch out for!
The exhibition also highlights the healing effects of poetry by featuring a St. John’s Hospice project between patients and staff in palliative care. Despite it being one line, it really rings out: ‘In quiet stillness, think about the seasons of your life.’
As young poet, passionate about supporting others and just starting to build creative projects, seeing These Poets, Our Kin on the walls of the shopping centre in my home town, and seeing people stop to read, fills me with a great sense of pride, and a rush of excitement about what is possible. Poetry doesn’t just have to be hidden in books or for a select few. There is so much we can do. Also, an excitement that things are starting to change in Doncaster. I feel like this project has been the catalyst to bring young writers together and start many new conversations with each other and in wider creative spheres.
If you are a young Doncaster based writer and want to join the conversation, please do get in touch. I want to make this the beginning of the poetry revolution in Donny. Let’s get poems on walls all around the town. Do go and see how these poets carry this town around in their pens, minds and hearts. Take their words, carry them with you. Poems are currently being installed in between the bus and train station area of the Frenchgate for phase two of the project. Come and take a look soon!
These poets, our kin / These poems, our stories will be exhibited until September 2017. Phase One of the project is situated in the Frenchgate Centre between the food court and the escalators down to the train station. danryderpoet.com/thesepoetsourkin
Dan Ryder was born and grew up in Doncaster. In 2010 he left to study at Manchester Metropolitan University. After graduating in 2013, he spent time in two UNESCO Cities of Literature, Melbourne and Reykjavík respectively. In the summer of 2016 he returned to live in Doncaster. A recent graduate of the Manchester Writing School, Dan is social media manager for Doncopolitan. Website: www.danryderpoet.com
Click on an image below for the gallery >>
Hive also runs Doncaster Young Writers group for 14 to 25s and lots of other opportunities for young writers in Doncaster 25 and under.
Leave a Comment · Posted on May 6, 2017
Hive is thrilled to announce Wild Poetry, a fabulous spring-into-summer poetry project open for submissions from poets from 14 to 25 until 22nd May. The project, funded by Grow Wild UK, encourages young writers to write a wide range of poems inspired by UK native wild flowers, plants, & fungi. Work selected will be made into a book accompanied by interesting and relevant facts.
In the UK we’re lucky to have some amazing wild flowers and plants, but they’re in danger: we have lost 97% of wild flower meadows since the 1930s. This not only means less colour in our lives but it’s impacting on populations of butterflies, bees, pollinating bugs and birds. (Grow Wild UK)
This is an opportunity for young writers of poetry (from 14 to 25) to respond to an open theme, through research and observation in any way they wish – from finding inspiration drawn from things like plant folklore, Bach flower remedies, or the Victorian Language of Flowers (Floriography), to simply examining something up close or sitting in a park or garden with a notepad and taking it all in.
We are looking for a diverse range of plants, trees, flowers and fungi to be covered. 20 poems inspired by bluebells, or meadows, no matter how good, will be a bit much! We’re particularly keen to shine a spotlight on the many wonderful wild plants and fungi that many of us likely don’t even known exist.
All poetry forms are welcome from free verse to haiku, from list poems to ode poems. You can write in the voice of a flower thought to cure indecisiveness, cameo a plant as metaphor or symbolism in a poem about something else, or take inspiration from the weird and wonderful smells, habits and names of plants. As long as there is a significant link, and it’s native and grows wild in the UK, anything goes!
Young poet, Eloise Unerman, who’s been helping to put the Wild Poetry project together for her Silver Arts Award, has written this fine example of what’s possible (having never seen a Ghost Orchid!)
The ghost orchid (Epipogium aphyllum) was thought to have been extinct since 1986 but was last spotted in Hertfordshire in 2010. It is found mainly in deep leaf-litter in beech woods where the ground is virtually bare of vegetation and more rarely in oak woodland. The plant is hard to see – the best way is to shine a bright torch beam parallel to the ground to highlight the flowering spikes.
While the other girls were pretending
to be daisies and daffodils, you fancied
yourself as a ghost orchid. Everything was
underground with you, whispered words, tips
of icebergs. Stories about the legendary
curves of your long, white legs got lodged
in young heads. By the time you were sixteen,
getting a look at you was like seeing a UFO.
You would show up, flash your flesh and disappear.
Ghost Hunters, boys who called themselves
men, chased you with the thrill of the hunt
on their faces, as I stood by, fearing your extinction.
You can submit up to 3 poems, from a tiny 10 word haiku to a 10 stanza epic, but we’re looking for your best work. We’re also asking you to send a little information with your poem about what inspired it. This might be a potted description of the plant encyclopedia style, its personal significance to you, or some interesting facts (or myths!) you found out when you delved deeper.
Click here 650 wildflower species in the countryside in Britain (but there are sooo many more!)
Click here for an introduction to fungi and some common species found in Britain
Click here for trees native to Britain
Get in touch for a support sheet with some fine poetry examples and exercise ideas to get you scribbling! firstname.lastname@example.org
Deadline: Midnight Sunday 22nd May | send to: email@example.com
Wild Poetry is funded by Grow Wild UK the national outreach initiative of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
Leave a Comment · Posted on April 26, 2017
Over the coming year, Hive will be welcoming visits from graduates of The Writing Squad to Hive groups, and as one off events, to give readings, workshops and talk about their journey so far as emerging and early career writers.
The aim is to give young writers, just starting out through our groups or network, fresh and relevant insights into possible pathways and progression routes for their writing, and an opportunity for Squad writers to share their knowledge and experiences.
The Writing Squad is the North’s professional development programme for emerging young writers (16 – 21) www.writingsquad.com. Their next application window opens in December.
We kick off with Sheffield-based poet James Giddings (more info coming soon) in June.
Photo: James Giddings at the Arvon Tate Word Exchange
Hive South Yorkshire in partnership with The Writing Squad
Leave a Comment · Posted on April 6, 2017
Open Mic Mehfil at the Alchemy Festival at Cast in Doncaster – FREE | 3rd June | 4pm to 5.30pm
Calling writers and word-lovers from across South Yorkshire, (particularly of South Asian heritage), bring your words and join us at the Alchemy on Tour Festival at Cast in Doncaster on 3rd June as part of a daylong celebration of South Asian culture.
If you write poems, tell stories, compose lyrics, spit bars, or have anything else to say out loud to a supportive audience, this is an event to celebrate your words, ideas and talents in a warm atmosphere.
The day and evening will be jam-packed with something for the whole family (see below line up), and at 4pm the Open Mic Mehfil will open its mic to voices from across the region. The event is open to all, both new and experienced performers, we’re particularly keen to hear from young people of South Asian heritage in South Yorkshire (14 to 25).
Our special guest at the Open Mic Mehfil is spoken word poet, activist, and original member of Leeds Young Authors, Saju Ahmed.
Interested? Either, drop us a line to reserve a definite slot, or put your name down at the start of the event (slots limited).
If you’re a young person of South Asian heritage (16 to 25yrs) from in or around Doncaster, why not come to a poetry writing workshop (no experience necessary!) with Hive at Cast to pen your first poem to read at the event. Details here.
To reserve a definite slot or find out more, email Iram Ahmed: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Facebook event to follow mid-May)
About the Alchemy Festival day 3rd June
Alchemy Doncaster (31st May to 3rd June 2017) a festival from the Southbank Centre celebrating the diverse range of cultures and arts from the South East Asian region. The festival, which started life at Southbank Centre in London, embarks on a tour every two years. Cast in Doncaster is proud to have hosted the festival in 2015, and again now in 2017.
On Saturday 3rd June the festival will take over the whole of the Cast building with a jam-packed programme of events for the whole family starting with fun, music and drummers in the square outside. In the main space, Aagrah Restaurant will host a cooking demonstration. For children there’ll be Bhangra Tots and a Storytelling event in the Dance Space and Drama Studio. For adults there’ll be a Mosaic making workshop.
Headline Alchemy Doncaster is an electrifying night of international hip-hop as artists from South Asia and the UK mix rhymes to sound system beats, against a backdrop of video art in Beats Without Boundaries. The line-up of artists feature rapper Black Zang, host of the first ever hip-hop radio show in Bangladesh, Ashanti De Alwis, the first Sri Lankan female rapper to be signed with Sony Music and Universal Musi alongside Paradise, Afghanistan’s first female rapper, and partner Diverse, who make tracks speaking out for women’s rights in Afghanistan. From India comes pioneer of feminist rap Dee MC, and Naezy, whose popularity has soared thanks to his music about politics and poverty.
In Cast’s Second Space Sacred Sounds, will highlights the role of Sikh soldiers in the First World War set against spoken word and religious Sikh music. Bilal Zafar, an up and coming British Pakistani comedian, will also do some evening stand up.
Also in the evening, Cast Associate Artists Target Theatre company will be presenting a reading of their new play Made. Southbank Centre will be hosting their participation piece called Mother Tongues from Farther Lands which explores stories of women.
(For more information visit here)
Saju Ahmed was encouraged to do spoken word poetry at 16 through Leeds Young Authors when he was close to getting kicked out of sixth form. He said, at the time he thought – ‘Poetry’s not for me. I’m more Nas and Tupac so I won’t find the connection.’ But connect he did, and poetry was the catalyst for his liberation.
Leave a Comment · Posted on April 6, 2017
Calling young people of South Asian heritage (16 to 25yrs) in Doncaster who’d like to try something new and empowering in the form of poetry & spoken word!
With the support of writer Vicky Morris from Hive South Yorkshire, come along to a poetry workshop and have a go at writing poems with a view to performing something at the Open Mic Mehfil event taking place as part of Alchemy Doncaster – a South Asian cultural festival from the Southbank Centre taking place at Cast Theatre Doncaster on 3rd June (details here).
You don’t have to think you’re a great writer to attend and Vicky will help you build the confidence to write something you’re proud of and read in front of a live audience (although there is no pressure to perform at the event!)
We want to hear and celebrate the diversity of young voices in South Yorkshire at the festival, particularly local young people of South Asian heritage.
Interested!? Drop Iram a line at email@example.com to put your name down or find out more.
Bring friends! FREE | Refreshments provided | Open to all levels and abilities.
Workshop: Saturday 29th April at Cast in Doncaster, 2 to 4pm.
If you are unable to attend but would still like to get involved, please get in touch, we’d love to hear from you!
In partnership with Cast in Doncaster
Leave a Comment · Posted on March 30, 2017
As a young writer currently enjoying the discovery of every kind of prose out there, I often find myself drawn to the weird and wonderful. I confess to a fascination with anything creepy and bleak, and exploring the darker side of things through words captivates me. So, who better for me to interview than, prolific horror writer Simon Bestwick. Simon is author of a impressive 5 novels including, The Faceless, Tide of Souls and the Black Road series, 6 novellas and numerous short stories.
I’m very grateful to Simon for taking time out to chat after a morning of leading workshops for Hive recently. I loved our exchange and I hope you benefit from his words of wisdom as much as I have.
Here, among other things, Simon gives a fascinating insight into the processes of writing short stories and novels in the realm of horror, some excellent advice for young and aspiring writers, and a really honest peek into how he became the writer he is today.
So, you’re a horror writer, how did your journey take shape?
I think the horror was always there. I always liked those kind of stories. There’s a lot of overlap with horror and other areas of literature. And I grew up watching Doctor Who and a lot of science fiction and horror too. My granddad had this fantastically huge book called ‘A Century of Thrillers’, from Poe to Arlen from about 1929, and it was chock full of the greats; loads of Edgar Allen Poe, Algernon Blackwood and Ambrose Bierce.
I’ve always written. I wanted to be an actor as well, and later a director. I wanted to do the act-star-direct sort of thing, which few people can really pull off. I did a media performance degree at Salford Uni so I got a bit of both, and coming out of that I worked out that writing was more my thing. I fell away from script writing towards prose. If you write a script you need to get actors and directors and money, whereas if you write a story you just need your fingers and a keyboard. That was about ’96, and I wrote my first stories in ’97 and started sending them out to the small press magazines. You’d get a free copy and if you were lucky you might get a cheque for enough to buy a Chinese takeaway. At first, it was one short story a week, now I write daily – it’s been about 20 years.
What were your stories like to begin with?
It was Boxing Day ’96 – I remember it clearly – I had just reached that point where I knew how dreadful I was and I just wanted to write one good thing. I didn’t care about my ego anymore it was just about the sense of fulfilment that you got from writing. So, I wrote this small story called Once, which was published in this small press mag. I knew as soon as I’d finished it that I’d finally written something real that had some truth to it, some soul. And it was kind of like the lights went on – that’s how you do it. You have to be humble. It’s the great paradox; if you want to produce stuff that people will actually admire, then that has to be the last thing on your mind when you’re writing it. You have to be thinking about the story and whatever truth that story’s actually about. After that I was banging out about a story a week, and eventually graduated to longer works. I had my first story collection in 2004.
So, did you write at all in school, was there any encouragement there?
I had some very good English teachers. The one that gave me the most encouragement was David Bradley. I think he’s actually an MBE now. He would read scads of stuff from me and critique it. I was very, very lucky to have that. Later, I went to an FE college for an acting course, and they had a playwright who visited, and he critiqued some of my work, and that was very helpful.
I wrote about three novels between ages of fifteen and seventeen, all very bad, but each was I think, I hope, a little less bad than the one before it. Then I got more interested in script writing for a time.
When you leave college and you have to work, it’s kind of, well if you want to call yourself a writer you actually have to do it. The beginning was a bad time for me because I knew what I was writing was dreadful. I was writing stuff with the sort of sense that I want everyone to be so impressed with me and think I’m so wonderful, and that makes your work very self-conscious and strained. There’s no heart, no centre to it.
So, you started off writing short stories. Do you prefer shorter stories or novels?
Good question. At the beginning, I loved shorts stories, absolutely – you just sit down and write it. I would potter around, noodle ideas about this or that and whack one out in a night. Whereas a novel requires a different kind of commitment. For me now, a novel now is easier to write in a way because it’s just like this big ongoing project. I have my outline and I just sit down and hit keys until I’ve reached two and a half thousand words which is my usual target. Short stories have actually become more difficult to write in that sense.
So, you said you write 2,500 words a day?
That’s the usual target, yeah.
Do you normally just sit down and write or do you ever have any writing exercises?
From time to time I will use writing exercises if I’m just in a bit of a rut or feeling a bit like I’m not really doing anything. I used to do morning pages, which is an exercise invented by Julia Cameron in a book called ‘The Right to Write’. Essentially, it’s just timed writing, which is something that Natalie Goldberg covers in ‘Writing Down the Bones’. Those are two books which are very, very useful to someone who’s trying to just get stuff out their head and onto the page.
Even if you can’t think of anything to write you just write – I can’t think of anything to write rhubarb rhubarb rhubarb rubbish rubbish rubbish. Sooner or later something will come up. And it’s because you don’t give yourself time to consciously think stuff. You can ask yourself questions while writing and the response to it comes because you haven’t got time to second guess or self-censor.
Do you talk to people about your writing or show your work to other people?
On rare occasions when I’m not quite certain if I’m achieving what I set out to achieve. Another time is when it’s a question of research. Like for example, I used to be friends with an ex-army guy. A lot of the stuff in Hell’s Ditch and more recently Devil’s Highway has a fair bit of action in it, and you want to get that side of things right. So, he would read over it and be able to give me thoughts, particularly on the military mindset.
He said, the main thing you need to work on here is how soldiers actually think, how they look at things and react to stuff. If you can get that down, then you’ve pretty much got it. I think it was Hell’s Ditch when I gave it to him I said, “Oh there’s nothing major”, and then a couple of days later I said “just waiting for your notes”. And he said “yeah, there’s nothing!” It’s a bit worrying though that I can in theory plan some sort of military assault – don’t for god’s sake put me in charge of anything like that!
I lost touch with him by the time I did Devil’s Highway. It’s one of the biggest things in terms of action that I’ve done. It revolves around this huge battle scene, which I’ve never done before. There’re lots of points of views, lots of different characters, lots going on. So of course, you have to try and work out the whole strategic element of it – they attack so they get pushed back so they try this and they try that so you have to work out all these moves and counter moves. And then you have to tell it through the individual experiences of all these people who are caught up in it. It was one of the few books of mine that my wife hasn’t really liked, she said it was a bit too heavy on ‘shooty bang sticks’ as she puts it. I was thinking a little bit of Black Hawk Down when I wrote that, and she hated Black Hawk Down, so there was the problem right away!
Luckily, a writer on a workshop I did, her dad is actually a former Royal Marine Commando and something of an expert, with a good sense of humour as well, so he read the whole thing and was able to give his thoughts. It’s quite funny because in the Black Road books people are mainly using weapons from the past like World War II surplus guns and stuff from the 1980s. So, they’re using sterling submachine guns which were the British army submachine guns from back then, which I’d had the impression were considered a reasonably good piece of equipment. He said they were considered one step above throwing stones!
I will try to be my own toughest critic and my own toughest editor and get it as close as I can to some kind of finished product before I let people see it.
That’s interesting. You mentioned Hell’s Ditch and Devil’s Highway – which of your novels do you like the most?
That’s like making me chose my favourite child!
Which was the most interesting to write?
They were all interesting in different ways. With Tide of Souls, I had a dozen bottom draw novels up to that point, but most of them I’d said I need to rewrite that, but then draw a line underneath and never come back to it, but with Tide of Souls I basically had very good inspiration in terms of four grand, two grand up front, two grand on completion and six months to write it. I probably learned more about the craft, if not the art, of writing a novel, in those six months than in the years waiting for the muse to tell me what to do.
Part of the pleasure there was that I actually did it, I actually wrote a novel. It was a zombie novel, and I wanted it to be more than just a bog-standard zombie novel. I wanted it to be a book that I had written, an actual novel by me, that just happened to have zombies in it. I thought it would do quite badly because the kind of people who might like it, would be put off by the lurid zombie cover and the fact that it’s a book of zombie stories, and the people who would actually read it would think ‘oh this is some sort of pretentious highbrow crap’. As it turned out it was one of their most popular titles in that series, and I got a four-star review in the Daily Telegraph, so I did something right there!
My second novel is The Faceless, which was a very tough book to write in some respects because it was based around the suffering of the First World War, and particularly the aftermath. There were many soldiers who suffered terrible psychological and emotional damage, and there was an awful lot of the physical scars – people lost limbs. World War I produced a huge number of people with massive facial injuries, because of the trenches and steel helmets. The helmet would prevent a fatal head injury, but you would be horrified to see how much of somebody’s face can be destroyed and they’re still alive. I saw pictures while researching that were absolutely horrific beyond anything I could have created out of pure imagination.
These people, not all of them – I doubt many of them lived particularly long lives – but these people had to live with that damage. A lot of early facial reconstruction techniques were pioneered after World War I. You want to try and do justice to that. And it was something when I was working to write the best possible novel that I could, that left me exhausted by the end of it. So, that one means a great deal to me.
Hell’s Ditch is the first thing I had published that wasn’t written to a commission. In the past, it’s always been throw some ideas at a publisher, ooh I’ll have that one, here’s your advanced cheque and off you go. Whereas, Hell’s Ditch was something I wrote because I wanted to write it, I wanted to write the Black Road books, so that has a particular place in my heart. And of course, Devil’s Highway is part of that and is hitting its stride and getting into the flow now.
A Feast of All Souls is kind of a step back from before, it’s an attempt to write something a little bit gentler, a little more varied in colour. A lot of my stuff has been very dark and relentless, but life isn’t just about that, there’s a warmer, wider, more varied essence. I’m not quite sure though how well I succeed in The Feast of All Souls, because whenever when I want to write a happy ending it comes out bleaker than I intended.
So, which is my favourite? Oh god! I really, really want to say I love them all; probably I’d say Hell’s Ditch because it’s the first one I wrote purely for the love. But that’s only if you put a gun to my head, that’d be my answer.
I quite like writing weird or darker stories as well. I think there’s something fascinating about that and I think maybe not the bleakness but the darkness kind of mirrors the world, from a pessimistic view, a little. I don’t know; what is it that you like about the bleak stuff?
There’s always been a bit of social commentary in my stuff, an eye to stuff that’s going on. Horror is a way that you can interpret events in terms of nightmare; in real life, we don’t want to experience the worst-case scenario, we don’t even want to imagine the worst-case scenario. In a novel, you can, and in fiction you can explore that stuff as far as it goes and there’s a catharsis in that.
I find we always put a little bit of ourselves in our writing
Oh yeah. A little bit? Sometimes more than a little.
Yeah definitely. So, you’ve written all these novels, but character is often a big thing. What’s your most interesting or most challenging character?
I think one I found very difficult was a character called Danny Holme, in a novella I wrote called The School House. That was a difficult story to write, for a number of reasons. It was for an anthology called Houses on the Borderline – haunted houses of some kind and you could take it in any direction. My title was The School House and my school days were extremely unhappy; I was pretty horrendously bullied for 7 years. One of the things that was very much on my mind as I wrote it was that an awful lot of my characters have a thing about breaking away from their past, and there was this realisation that so much of what I am and who I am has been shaped by that, for good or ill. And my life may well have been different if I hadn’t had that.
And I was on a train ride when I went past this huge building that was actually a hospital but I saw it as a school house, and that was the title of my story. And this idea came along at some point that, well, I didn’t want to write a straight forward ghost story. I wanted there to be something more solid and physical, but not like a psycho horror story where someone is just hacking people to death. I wanted it, I think it needed, to have an almost nightmarish feel, almost like a David Lynch movie, because it would be the only way to get that kind of effect. And the idea was that if your physical appearance reflected your psyche, then these horrifically mutilated figures would be what their souls were like and what this dreadful place that had turned them into. So, Dan Holme became this sort of character – he’s an orderly at a private exclusive psychiatric home – and one of his patients turns out to be an old school fellow. And there is a process that starts to unlock a lot of his memories from his school days, at the same time as these other more weird and supernatural things happen; it becomes very surreal and the psychiatric hospital and the school seem to become interchangeable.
In The Faceless I had to write a scene featuring Gideon Dace and I was trying to write a horror novel without villains, if that makes sense. The supernatural threat in The Faceless isn’t evil in terms of what it’s trying to do even though it’s very destructive; it’s born out of suffering and cruelty and exploitation. The problem is that there has to be a cause for all that and the person who is responsible is Gideon Dace. And I was facing a character who, if they had any redeeming features, I was buggered if I could find any or knew what they were. And so I had to write this scene where he comes face to face with somebody and he has a moment to justify himself – I wouldn’t say that was easy to write.
That’s interesting. It’s sort of a more removed genre, horror, but in a way that makes it more true to life.
The best stuff I think in that field is effective because it touches on stuff that’s very, very close to us all. There is very little more personal than fear.
Okay, now big question you always get from young writers – what would you say to young and emerging writers who want to go somewhere with their writing?
Run, run away now! No, I’m joking. One of the big things of course is to persevere. Never give up. Write as much as you can, as often as you can, build a routine into your life. Make time, if you can every day, to write. At the same time know when you need to break those rules a little bit because you need to have enough structure to write regularly and enough spontaneity that you’ve actually got a life where things are happening and you’ve got stuff to write about. You can’t have one without the other.
Don’t stop because things are difficult. Read very widely, both within the field you’re interested in and out of it. In horror, one of the big ones is H P Lovecraft, a great insight into the genre and the time he was writing. But also read widely outside the genre. Don’t just be playing a couple of piano keys, a couple of instruments, when you’ve got access to the whole orchestra! I mean, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a long way away from anything I’ve written but I love that book. I would love to be able to write something as rich and funny as that. I doubt I ever will, but it would be lovely to write something so beautiful. It would be a big change of pace for me, and as I said before even when I think I’m getting something lighter it’s usually more of a qualified happy ending, where some of the characters are still alive. In a broad sense, if you’re alive and you’ve achieved your goal then that is a happy ending; all stories end in defeat, I suppose, if you take them right to the end.
Ah yes: finish what you start. Rewrite it and rewrite until you’re happy with it, you have to be your own toughest critic and your own biggest cheerleader at the same time, which is a very weird and tricky balance to get. Send your work out and keep sending your work out. Do your research ahead of time and get your list of agents or publishers, starting with the biggest names right at the top, working your way down to the smaller independent outlets. And do it in batches. And always have a fall-back position. Work out a covering letter ahead of time – they’re not hard to do – I think Stephen King has an idea for one in his book on writing. And of course, have a look on agents and publishers for what they might expect to see in a covering letter. And read the guidelines before you start. If you have all that before you begin, then it’s hard to get discouraged by the inevitable knockbacks.
If you’re incredibly lucky you might get something accepted on the first time you send something out. You’re going to have to be prepared for the knockbacks when they come though, and that endurance is ultimately what you need to have. Always be open to new ideas; if you get an invitation to do something and you’re not sure, say yes and accept the challenge. It’s not like you’re performing open heart surgery on someone – no one’s going to die if you f*ck it up. And you have to take risks in order to progress, in order to grow.
That’s an interesting one. It’s a bit of both, ‘cause all of my friends are writers so we talk about this kind of stuff. But then, the writing is something that I try and get up and do it, and then go on and have the rest of my day. That’s another advantage to getting up at 4 o’clock in the morning to write; by the time I’ve hit my quota for the day it’s “oh right, now I can get on with my day” sort of thing. One of the reasons I started getting up that early is for a new job, working shifts, so sometimes I’d be starting at 8 o’clock, sometimes at 10. I need about 2 or 3 hours to get that amount of writing done, so the only way to guarantee that every day is to get up at 4 o’clock.
People talk about discipline when it comes to writing, which is not a very good term; commitment I think is a better one. It’s not someone standing over you with a whip, but it’s like a relationship, you and the writing. I think of my writing not as a separate personality, but as a separate part of my brain that does this. And a lot of my end of things is to show up at the right time and let it get to work. Like I said, it’s about having a very humble attitude, pushing your own ego very far to the back.
Until I’m recognised as some kind of literary genius or until I have lots of money or prizes kind of thing, I’m in no position to be giving myself airs and graces. But knowing this is who I am is quite a big support in many ways, and it enables you to get through some jobs that other people might think are awful and soul destroying. But at the same time, you’re never quite off-duty as a writer; everything is material; you’re constantly a camera, picking stuff up and looking at it, hiding potential ideas in it.
Brilliant. Are you ready for a quick-fire end?
Dracula or Frankenstein?
Mmmm… Dracula. If you’re going to go for evil, then Dracula, but none of that glittery Twilight sh*t.
Jane Eyre or Lizzie Bennet?
Couldn’t give a flying f*ck about either of them.
Poetry – yay or nay?
Yay. Poetry’s great. Shakespeare, Shelley…
Typing or handwriting things?
Both. Typing is quicker so that’s often for a longer thing like a novel. I do like the physical feel of handwriting, especially with a fountain pen where you can see the ink glisten on the page.
Autumn. And season 2 of Blake 7 is pretty awesome, although my other half will never accept the appeal of Blake 7. 4th season of The Wire, definitely.
Kindle or paper?
Probably paper. I do quite like Kindle, but you can’t beat reading a proper book.
Fan of Shakespeare?
Okay, and finally – spaghetti. Do you curl it up and put it on a spoon, chop it up, or shovel?
I’m divided. Usually shovel. Occasional use a spoon. Chopping up is for heathens.
Yeah! Thank you so much for the interview, it was fantastic.